Tuesday 23 January 2018

Keane talking the talk and earning his stripes

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IT was amusing to sit and listen to Robbie Keane talk about Twitter last week, shaking his head at the rash behaviour of younger colleagues who consistently type themselves into trouble.

Considering that he dresses like a modern footballer and still enjoys every goal with the exuberance of his younger self, it would be wrong to depict Ireland's captain as a curmudgeon or a dinosaur from the old school.

In truth, he's just clever enough not to give too much away.

Imagine, for one second, if Keane had the same trigger-happy tendency to reveal his innermost thoughts as, say, James McClean.

You can be sure there is plenty he could say about the managers who bought and sold him over the years, the politics that surrounded his short-lived stint at Liverpool or smart-a**e critics – like this writer – who questioned the logic of his move to Los Angeles.

But, aside from the odd exception, such as his emotive response in the immediate aftermath of Thierry Henry's handball in Paris and a slightly unfortunate 'Late Late Show' appearance at the end of the calamitous Steve Staunton era, Keane (right) has generally managed to keep a lid on his emotions in situations where others would have snapped.

And it's not just about his aversion to social media; his caution dates back to his formative days.

By the end of his teenage years, the Dubliner was sharp when it came to the PR game, turning down media requests for his phone number and letting others deal with the hassle of the queries.

It's standard practice now, but he was part of the first generation of Irish players to maintain a distance. He's rarely made himself available for sit-down, no-holds-barred interviews, which is why, in many ways, we know so little about him – and that's the way he likes it.

Last Thursday, Keane was available to a variety of media outlets as part of an Xbox promotion.

Gradually, his press musings as Irish captain have become more interesting and this relaxed format allowed the 33-year-old to elaborate on a wide variety of subjects.

On Newstalk, he spoke about the curse of parents on sidelines screaming abuse at kids as opposed to letting the coaches do the work, a simple but important message that needs to be aired. He warmed to the general topic.

When the subject matter turned to his brief taste of Liverpool, however, Keane reverted to type and simply explained that he tries not to have regrets or bear grudges.

His loyalty to the code of the dressing-room is unswerving, an attribute which has enhanced the respect in which he is held in football circles.

It should stand to him in the next stage of his journey – a phase that will start in January when he begins the process of securing coaching badges through the FAI with a view to fulfilling his long-term ambition to move into management.

There was a time when the prospect of the cocksure goalscorer leading others seemed a far-fetched concept, but the manner in which he has grown into the role of captaincy has successfully tackled that perception and it extends beyond the Irish scene.

His former Spurs boss Martin Jol is understood to have been desperate to bring Keane to Craven Cottage last winter because he felt his positive influence in a group is exactly what Fulham required at that juncture.

In Los Angeles, where he literally earns millions more than the majority of his team-mates, he is well regarded when some of the designated players parachuted into the league were condemned as aloof and out of touch and failed to last the course.

It is now abundantly clear that Martin O'Neill will be relying on a strong contribution from Ireland's record goalscorer in the Euro 2016 campaign, with Keane himself noting the dearth of strikers coming through the ranks.

The fortunes of Noel King's U-21 side emphasise that point and there was bad news last week when Chelsea starlet Patrick Bamford – who is on loan at MK Dons – made his England U-21 debut.

Bamford represented Ireland at U-18 level and King was desperate to get him on board.

Recent results tell the story. King's promising crop might have smashed home a total of nine goals in two Euro qualifiers with the Faroe Islands, but they fired blanks in the key double-header with Romania (0-0 and 0-1) and crunch meetings with Germany (0-4) and Montenegro (0-0).

In the short term, it means that O'Neill has to keep Keane around the squad, even if wear and tear might prevent the veteran from being able to start every competitive match.

His presence on the bench would be a significant asset from a playing perspective, but it could also be a window to the long term. A future Ireland boss? Don't rule it out.

Ndo and Collins good news stories for domestic game

The League of Ireland needs entertainers to fight for attention in a competitive sporting market and two developments last week should guarantee alternative forms of that commodity.

Joseph Ndo's decision to commit his future to Sligo Rovers means that we get to see more of the charismatic former Cameroon international.

His cheeky and controversial lobbed free-kick to set up Danny North's FAI Cup final goal demonstrated his ability to produce the unpredictable on a big stage and his presence is good for the league.

Meanwhile, Roddy Collins' appointment as Derry City boss is sure to provide plenty of column inches. After working away to rebuild his reputation at First Division level, Collins now gets a chance to compete at the right end of the table and manage in Europe again.

It will be fascinating to see how he adapts to the unique challenge that the pressure on Foyleside presents.

Red-hot mooney deserves to be on Irish radar

THE BBC'S 'Football League Show' always tends to have an Irish subplot and Dave Mooney is regularly featuring this term.

On Saturday, the Dubliner popped up with a sumptuous lob in Leyton Orient's win at Swindon, his 14th of the season.

Mooney turned 29 last month and it's five years since the Dubliner earned a move to Reading on the basis of a prolific stint at Cork City.

He wasn't ready to make an impact in the upper echelons of English football then but, on current form, he is capable of progressing above League One level and at least earning the respect of a scouting visit from either Martin O'Neill or Roy Keane.

Irish Independent

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